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Hakuba in summer Part 1: Full of Nature’s blessings

Hakuba in summer Part 1: Full of Nature’s blessings

Have you heard of Hakuba (白馬)? Those who like winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding may already know Hakuba as one of the places where the 1998 Winter Olympic Games were held. Every winter, many foreign visitors go to Hakuba looking forward to doing winter sports.


Located in the northern part of Nagano Prefecture (長野県), Hakuba is well-renowned as a premier winter destination due to its beautiful powder snow. However, Hakuba is a place that can be enjoyed even in the snow-free season. In this two-part series, we will introduce a 3D2N girls’ trip (女子旅 joshitabi) itinerary to Hakuba for summer, and recommend some scenic spots and delicious places to eat along the way.

 

Day 1: Setting off from Matsumoto Station

Waiting at the platform. (Image Credit: JR East / Daisuke Shiba)

 

From Matsumoto Station (松本駅), we took the Limited Express Train Azusa to Hakuba Station (白馬駅). During the 1-hour train ride, we enjoyed the beautiful scenery from the windows of the train.

 

View of the Three Lakes of Nishina

Unobstructed view of mountains and lakes from the train. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

From the train windows, you can see the Three Lakes of Nishina (仁科三湖 Nishina sanko)—Lake Kisaki (木崎湖 Kisaki-ko), Lake Aoki (青木湖 Aoki-ko), and Lake Nakatsuna (中綱湖 Nakatsuna-ko)—and the magnificent mountains of the Northern Alps (北アルプス Kita-arupusu).

 

View of Lake Aoki from the train window. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

At Lake Aoki and Lake Kizaki, there are campsites along the lakes, where you can enjoy activities such as stand up paddling (SUP) and canoeing.

 

Arriving at Hakuba Station

Hakuba Station’s exterior. (Image credit: JR East / Akinori Ueno)

 

We had just started talking about our trip that was about to begin, but in a flash, we had already arrived at Hakuba Station.

 

View from Hakuba Station. (Image credit: JR East / Akinori Ueno)

 

After exiting the ticket gate, the sight of Hakuba's tall mountains welcomed us. Whenever we get off at Hakuba Station, we are always deeply impressed by its proximity to the high mountains.

 

Known collectively as Hakuba Sanzan (白馬三山 the three mountains of Hakuba), the three peaks of Shirouma-dake (2,932m), Shakushi-dake (2,812m) and Hakuba Yarigatake (2,903m) welcome you as you step out of the station. It is amazing that these mountains are almost 3km high, yet appear to close to us. There are no other stations quite like Hakuba Station.

 

Let’s go to Hakuba Iwatake Mountain Resort!

View from after getting off the gondola. (Image credit: JR East / Yuya Kumazaki)

 

Our first stop for the day was Hakuba Iwatake Mountain Resort. From Hakuba Station, we took a shuttlebus to the foot of Mount Iwatake, then took the Noah gondola up to Hakuba Iwatake Mountain Resort. After getting off the gondola, the Northern Alps, which still had a little snow remaining on its peaks, appeared in front of us, and we were overwhelmed by the magnificence of nature.

 

A photogenic spot. (Image credit: JR East / Yuya Kumazaki)

 

Hailing from New York, THE CITY BAKERY opened its first store in Nagano here at Hakuba, and is just a short walk from the top of the gondola station. The bakery is a very photogenic spot, and you can take pictures like the above.

 

Panoramic view from HAKUBA MOUNTAIN HARBOR. (Image credit: Hakuba IWATAKE)

 

However, the most amazing scenery awaits you on the other side of the bakery, where there is a viewing terrace known as the HAKUBA MOUNTAIN HARBOR. At an elevation of 1,289m, the terrace offers unobstructed, panoramic views of the Northern Alps and Hakuba’s impressive mountains.

 

HAKUBA MOUNTAIN HARBOR's stunning views in various seasons. (Image credit: Hakuba IWATAKE)

 

Newly built in October 2018, the terrace lets you get an unparalleled view of the surrounding mountains, from snow-capped peaks in spring, to lush greens in summer, to fiery warm colours in autumn, and snowy white in winter.

 

Delicious food and beautiful scenery. (Image credit: JR East / Yuya Kumazaki)

 

There are also chairs and tables on the terrace, so we had some croissant sandwiches from THE CITY BAKERY for lunch while gazing at the scenery of the beautiful Northern Alps.

 

THE CITY BAKERY’s famous cinnamon muffins and hot chocolate. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Of course, we also had to try the bakery’s most popular items: the delicious cinnamon muffins and thick, creamy hot chocolate. Needless to say, they were tasty and delightful, and did not disappoint.

 

Enjoying a buggy cruise. (Image credit: JR East / Yuya Kumazaki)

 

After eating lunch, we enjoyed a buggy cruise, and fully felt the nature of Iwatake. Mount Iwatake offers many fun outdoor activities, which are perfect for adrenaline junkies looking to enjoy the scenery in a more thrilling way.

 

There are many exciting activities to enjoy at Mount Iwatake. (Image credit: Hakuba IWATAKE)

 

Other than the buggy cruise, you can also try out mountain biking, go on guided hikes, try out an 8–12m high obstacle course, and more. Not for the faint of heart, the latest addition to the activity line-up is a swing from which you can take in a panoramic view of the mountains. The swing is slated to begin operations in end-August, so we weren’t able to try it on our trip, but it sure looks like it would be a lot of fun!

 

Enjoy alpine living

STARRY RESIDENCE SUITE. (Image Credit: JR East / Chie Matsubara)

 

To reward ourselves for our hard work, we decided to stay at the upscale STARRY RESIDENCE SUITE suite for the first night of our trip. The accommodation is located at the foot of Hakuba Happo, close to the gondolas, and you can go skiing immediately in winter.

 

View from the room. (Image Credit: JR East / Yuya Kumazaki)

 

Even in summer, you can experience the beautiful scenery and fresh air from the balcony. Since there is no skiing in summer, we could enjoy wonderful views of the vast greenery right from the comfort of our room. Our room had two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a kitchen, and the design was very cute.

 

As an apartment-style accommodation, the room had a pretty decent kitchen, and we could cook our own food if we wanted to. Having a kitchen also makes it great for longer stays, especially in the winter season. The friendly hotel staff also made us feel right at home with their warm hospitality.

 

For dinner, instead of cooking we opted for something a little more luxurious, and got a chef to come over and prepare an Italian course meal for us.

 

Enjoying leather crafts. (Image Credit: JR East / Satoru Ota (left) and Chie Matsubara (right))

 

While waiting for dinner to be ready, we enjoyed a leather-crafting activity. We made a keyholder strap and accessory case out of leather. We got to choose the colours of the leather and the metal hardware, as well as think of the words to print on the leather. It was very fun to make while discussing things like "Which colour of fitting matches this leather?", and "Isn't this cute?".

 

Delicious dinner. (Image credit: JR East / Chie Matsubara)

 

Finally, it was time for dinner. As an appetiser, we had a salad featuring edible flowers. It was very gorgeous in appearance. The main dish, Shinshu beef, which was cooked at a low temperature, was very tender, and the Japanese-style Maitake mushroom sauce matched the meat. We enjoyed all the dishes—appetisers, bread, pasta, and main meat—while enjoying the conversation.

 

Enjoying dinner. (Image Credit: JR East / Yuya Kumazaki)

 

After our delicious dinner, we had a fun girls’ night on the comfortable sofa. Even in the bedroom, we kept talking to each other, leaving the doors of each room open. Good night!

 

Day 2: Cycling around Hakuba

Cycling around the village of Hakuba. (Image Credit: JR East / Yuya Kumazaki)

 

On the second day, we woke up in the morning surrounded by very clear air and warm sunshine. We rented an e-bike to leisurely cycle around the village of Hakuba. These bicycles have small motors to assist in the pedalling, which make it easier to go up slopes. After listening to the clerk at the bicycle rental shop explain how to ride an e-bike, we practiced a little and started cycling.

 

It feels really exhilarating when you ride a bicycle under the morning sun. There are cycling courses set up in Hakuba—if you follow the bicycle marks in numerical order, you will not get lost!

 

Freshly-baked bread from koubo-nikki 

Let’s go into the bakery. (Image Credit: JR East / Yuya Kumazaki)

 

The first place we stopped by was a bakery, koubo-nikki, to buy some bread. The bakery is located at the entrance of Hakuba Echoland. When we arrived at the bakery, it already smelled like freshly-baked bread. 

 

Pretty interior of koubo-nikki. (Image credit: JR East / Kaoru Otani)

 

The interior of the bakery and its walls painted in pink were really pretty. All the freshly-baked bread lined up in the showcase looked so delicious, and we couldn’t make up our minds on which ones to choose.

 

Aromatic hand-dripped coffee at Satoru Coffee

The best breakfast. (Image Credit: JR East / Yuya Kumazaki)

 

After buying our bread, we cycled to a nearby coffee shop, Satoru Coffee. It was a small shop like a secret base surrounded by trees, and gave off an aroma of coffee beans. The cup of gently hand-dripped coffee was delicious, and it was interesting to watch how the coffee dripped. We had the bread and a cup of coffee at the table outside, and it was simply the best breakfast.

 

Break time at Pochi no takoyaki (ポチのたこ焼き)

Enjoying takoyaki. (Image credit: JR East / Daisuke Shiba (left) and Yuya Kumazaki (right))


If you are craving a snack, we highly recommend the takoyaki (たこ焼き octopus balls) from Pochi no Takoyaki (ポチのたこ焼き). As its name suggests, the famous “Mount Shirouma Mega-Super-Size” (白馬岳盛り Shirouma-dake mori) has onions piled up high like a mountain, and its appearance was amazing and fun.

 

Picturesque scenery at Oide Park (大出公園)

Oide Suspension Bridge (left) and scenery at Oide Park in summer (top right) and spring (bottom right). (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)

 

Next, we visited Oide Park (大出公園 О̄ide Kо̄en), a beautiful park from which you can gaze at fairy tale-like scenery that looks like it has come out of a painting!

 

The park’s scenery is particularly mesmerising in spring, when you can see cherry blossoms against a background of snow-capped mountains, with the Hime River (姫川 Himegawa) flowing in the foreground. Also at Oide Park is the Oide Suspension Bridge (大出吊り橋 О̄ide Tsuribashi), a wooden suspension bridge and one of the highlights of the park.

 

Lunch at Kappatei (かっぱ亭)

Waiting for lunch. (Image Credit: JR East / Yuya Kumazaki)

 

After visiting the park, we had lunch at Kappatei (かっぱ亭), an old folk house café nearby the suspension bridge. The café is a 100-year-old renovated old house, and the atmosphere of the shop is great.

 

Shinshu salmon lunch set. (Image Credit: JR East / Michi Iizawa)

 

At Kappatei, you can enjoy local ingredients from Hakuba such as Shinshu Ginjo pork (信州吟醸豚) and Shinshu salmon (信州サーモン). We had the Shinshu salmon, and it was delicious.

 

After lunch, we continued on a very scenic cycling route around Hakuba. Curious to find out where we went and what beautiful scenery we caught while cycling on Day 2 and hiking on Day 3? Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series, coming this Friday! As a sneak peek, below is the map of our cycling route for Day 2:

 

Map of our cycling route. Adapted from the Hakuba Cycle Map published by Tourism Commission of Hakuba Village.

 

Header image credit: JR East / Yuya Kumazaki

 

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Writer’s profile:
Kaoru Otani
Kaoru works as a train conductor at East Japan Railway Company in Nagano. She is a nature lover and enjoys playing outside like hiking, camping etc. She would like to explore the beauty of nature and share her favourite spots with everyone!

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